That isn’t a stance that comes naturally. Wellington City Council wastes money with the best of them (convention centres, possible runway extension, bike stands outside our church, and so on – they even use ratepayers’ money to help fund the New Zealand Initiative) and presides over land-use restrictions that deliver increasingly high house prices. And then there are more localised gripes – but which have managed to get quite a bit of national coverage – like the Island Bay cycleway.
It was built without adequate consultation, and after it was built an overwhelming majority of participants in a well-run survey of residents conducted by the Residents Association told the Council they didn’t like it and wanted it gone. There was never an obvious reason for it in the first place – The Parade was one of the wider flatter safer streets in Wellington – but the then Mayor lived in Island Bay and liked to cycle to work. (It remains part of a grand vision of a cycleway all the way into the city – key bits of rest of the route currently serviced by roads that are barely wide enough anyway). And the only bit of the street I’d be a bit hesitant about cycling – through the shopping centre, with reversing angle parkers etc – is the only bit where there is no cycleway. It has been a fiasco all round. It is still relatively early days, but as someone who is mostly a pedestrian or a motorist, I suspect the overall environment is now more dangerous than it was (not very). As a pedestrian, one suddenly finds the cycleway merging with the footpath (to get round bus stops). As a motorist turning out of side streets it is materially harder to see oncoming traffic than it used to be. And I’m not at all sure how people who live on The Parade, backing out of their driveways, cope. It would probably matter even more if there were many cyclists, but on a nice autumn morning I just walked the length of the cycleway and didn’t see a cyclist.
The story is back in the news because a local dairy owner has decided to close his business, and blames the loss of short-term parking for a downturn in business (more than a few parks were removed to facilitate the cycleway). Perhaps so, but I’m just a little sceptical. Perhaps that is partly because it isn’t clear to me who uses dairies, even when parking is no problem, apart perhaps from school kids buying lollies. I’m in the neighbourhood all day, and I might have used a dairy twice in a year. But along the length of the cycleway – a distance I just walked in 14 minutes – there are six dairies (including the one planning to close soon) and a full-service supermarket (open from 7am to 10pm every day), for a population of around 7000. There were only one or two more when I first moved here 40 years ago. On one corner, two dairies face each other across the street – and somehow seem to survive. And actually, the dairy that is to close is the furthest from all the others, and the only one everyone has to pass coming into Island Bay from the city. It is a little hard to believe that the ill-considered cycleway is the only, or even dominant, factor. The Wellington City Council is guilty of many things, and a prima facie assumpton that they will be guilty of whatever they are charged with is often safe (don’t get me started on the walkway they currently have indefinitely closed to protect “heritage interests”), but perhaps not this time.
None of which excuses the inaction on the cycleway. It was kicked beyond the election last year, even after the survey results had been released, and now we are told to expect a decision in six months time. Meanwhile, of our two local councillors, one is off to become a member of Parliament – unless perhaps the Greens find a more dynamic candidate, in this one of their strongest party vote seats – and the other sees his future in Christchurch – he’s running for Parliament for the Greens in Ilam. The fear remains that the other councillors, the bureaucrats, and the cycling lobby – all keen on a whole network of cycleways – will just wait things out and the monstrosity will be with us forever.